cardamom coffee cake with blood oranges

I have a kind of strange cake for the blog today, as well as a kind of strange topic.

We shall start with the strange topic: spam comments. I’ve recently experienced a deluge of spam comments. It started this month, and it’s really quite something.

If you’re not familiar with Akismet stats, the green represents “ham” or actual comments from individual readers, whereas the yellow represents the spam.

And the spam is simply bizarre–lately I’ve received a batch of seemingly sincere yet rather awkward and broken sentences, combined with strange urls that seem to lead to nowhere (try assortment of 6 random letters:______.com). At least it made sense when the post content heavily endorsed certain SEO services or the author’s url lead to youtube videos about erectile dysfunction medications.

Sometimes I feel rather touched by this impersonal, mass-produced anonymous spam–isn’t this one sweet? A bit creepy because of the weird URL and everything but…

Thanks for your personal maoelvrus[sic] posting! I quite enjoyed reading it, you happen to be a great author.I will ensure that I bookmark your blog and may come back at some point. I want to encourage one to continue your great work, have a nice weekend!

And then there’s some nonsensical comments such as this:

Pin my tail and call me a dokyne,[sic] that really helped.

There’s also some abnormally coherent posts without any discernible spelling or grammar mistakes…yet they’re also completely irrelevant to anything at all that I’ve posted. And so strangely specific as well! At least the generic comments would apply pretty equally to just about anyone’s blog…but this?

Looks fabulous! I’m a big fan of the stripes and the woven pinboard looks perfect in that space. I’m totally green with jealously because we don’t have a mudroom. You walk in from the garage right into the living room. Carpeted living room. Argh! The one thing about our house that drives me up the wall!

Stripes and woven pinboards is a pretty serious thing for mudroom fanatics these days.

I also receive some spam that are rather critical:

Write more, thats[sic] all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You clearly know what youre[sic] talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your blog when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?

I would be convinced if only there was actually a video and the poster’s name was not “where to buy …”.

Some searching on the internet helped clear up some of my confusion as to how leaving a comment either a) obviously promoting a product or b) simply bizarre could be at all useful. If you’re curious, I’d really recommend this read. It’s a matter of links and clicks–and the numbers are only significant when the number of spam comments are a several degrees of magnitude higher. And with so many spam comments, sometimes not too much care goes into how they’re written. The article also provided some explanation for all comments with curious word choice and bizarre diction and syntax, as well as the urls that lead nowhere.

Initially, from I poured through the spam folder with bewilderment, some amusement, and a bit of annoyance; spam seemed like an undeniable frustration and trespass. While I’ve received comments that are clearly spam by the nonsense and the product-peddling, reading more about the spam comment industry did make me realize it’s not always that clear of a distinction. There could be grey areas–I wonder if mass-produced spam comments became a bit more targeted and relevant to my post, whether I would still view them as spam. Or what about if someone actually did read your post, but then commented solely to promote their product?I have similar ambivalent and conflicted feelings about this cake!

The cake was quite yummy, but it had a strange sort of texture; it was a bit spongey actually. Altogether this cake also suffered from the same problem of too much acidity with the mascarpone and orange combination as did this cake I posted last time. Will I ever learn?

cardamom coffee cake with blood oranges

rye coffee and cardamom cake

150 g butter at room temperature

50 g brown sugar

30 g granulated sugar, divided

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp kosher salt

3 eggs, divided

75 g dark rye flour

75 g all purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp ground anise

1 tsp baking powder

100 mL cooled coffee with a splash of heavy cream

to serve

coffee liqueur

1 blood orange

60 g mascarpone

120 g yoghurt

icing sugar, to taste

Cream butter with brown sugar and 20 g of the granulated sugar until light. Continue creaming away as you add the vanilla and salt until everything is very light and fluffy. Beat in 3 egg yolks one at a time and 1 egg white. Set aside the remaining two egg whites.

Whisk together the flours, spices and baking powder and set aside.

Whip the two egg whites with the remaining 10 g granulated sugar to soft peaks.

Alternate mixing the flour and coffee into the butter mixture. Lastly, fold in the egg whites, first lightening by completely folding in one dollop and then mixing in the remaining. Scrape into a prepared loaf pan.

Bake at 350F for or until an inserted skewer is removed with only a few crumbs clinging to it.

Let cool for a few moments before pouring over a few spoonfuls of coffee liqueur if desired (I think this may have made my cake collapse a little bit).

Mix together the mascarpone and yoghurt until smooth. Sweeten to taste with icing sugar. Add zest of 1 blood orange.

Cut the peel from the blood orange and slice into rounds. Once the cake is cooled completely, spread the mascarpone on top followed with the orange slices.

blood orange, sumac and rosemary cake

blood orange sumac and rosemary layer cake

There are a lot of half-blogged recipes that I’ve been meaning to revisit. Many of them are just drafts, still dangling in the unpublished limbo. They’re often recipes with potential paired with some rather awful flaw that needs remediation, or, in a more vain vein, they simply have some rather awful photos instead.sumac rosemary and almond granolasumac cake layersblood orange and sumac curdcake assembly

Others are actually posted on the blog but were not quite right, or at this point are feeling a bit outdated.

This cake is one of those cases.

It’s a long-awaited return to that rosemary forest cake, to make it an actual rosemary forest cake. It’s been bugging me for a while, and now here is, at least I think, a much more proper rosemary forest cake. layer cake assemblyundecorated sumac rosemary blood orange cakeundecorated sumac rosemary blood orange cakeThe forests that I know tend to be the homogeneous sort of endless conifers stretching over the horizon and where the forest floor, acidified by a mat of pine needles, is fairly unwelcoming to new and diverse growth. It is far from the field of weeds that was the previous rendition.A while ago, Hilda had suggested trying to make a sumac cake (and if you follow her blog, you’ll realize this was in the context of a post about sumac that she had foraged herself). I gave it a try, pairing the sumac with another citrusy flavour frequently paired with rosemary, blood orange. While I liked all the components individually, I didn’t consider how they would come together: as one very acidic cake. The lightly acidic marscapone frosting perhaps didn’t help much either.

I did realize, however, that sumac is a wonderful natural colouring! Previously I’ve usually relied upon hibiscus to boost the colour of curds; but sumac did the trick perfectly, while also producing a delightfully pink sponge cake.

I made a granola and a crumb for vague rock-y-sort-of-outcroppings. I think the granola looked a bit better, but I preferred the taste of the buttery crumble. This garnish, while it seemed a bit out of place, was actually quite a relief as it was sweet and not acidic unlike the rest of the cake!

Anyways, another layer cake for the archives. blood orange, sumac and rosemary cake

sumac and rosemary cake

Makes 3 6″ diameter cakes. 

3 eggs

75 g icing sugar

1 tsp sumac

a generous 1/2 tsp of finely chopped rosemary leaves

55 g flour (part spelt is nice)

pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350F.

Butter the cake pans, line with a parchment circle, and butter the parchment.

Whisk the eggs with the icing sugar until smoothly incorporated. Continue to beat until the eggs are very, very thick, holding a nice ribbon, and pale and fluffy. Whisk in the sumac and rosemary.

Sift the dry ingredients over top and fold in, then fold in the milk. Scrape into the prepared pans and bake for 10-15 minutes or until browned on the sides and well set on top.

 

rosemary and sumac crumb

For a sort of mountainous rosemary forest, you can either use this crumb or the granola that follows. I preferred the  buttery taste of this crumb, but rather appreciated the striated sedimentary look of the granola.

2 tbsp butter

1 tbsp brown sugar

pinch salt

1 tsp sumac

1 small sprig rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped

4 tbsp flour

3 tbsp rolled oats

2 tsp maple syrup

2-3 tbsp slivered almonds

Mix all the ingredients together and roll into small clumps or for small more “crumb” type, just scatter over a lined baking sheet. Bake at 365F around 15 minutes or until browned.

 

rosemary and sumac granola

1/2 c rolled oats

1/4 c slivered almonds

1 tbsp pumpkin seeds

2 tsp sumac

1 tbsp brown sugar

pinch salt

1 small sprig rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped

1 generous tbsp maple syrup

1 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 250F. Mix all the ingredients and spread in a thin even layer over a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for an hour without stirring and then let cool. Only then, gently disturb the granola to break into large delicate clusters.

 

blood orange curd

The sumac provides the colour, but the flavour of the blood orange still predominates. It turned out looser than I would have wished–I think 2 eggs + an egg yolk would have been a better amount. 

2 blood oranges, juice (~90 mL) and zest

1 egg + 2 egg yolks

1 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp butter

1 tsp dried ground sumac

100 mL heavy cream

Combine the blood orange juice, zest, eggs and sugar in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. As it warms up, add the butter and whisk in. Continue to cook until well thickened (it took around 10-13 minutes). Whisk in the sumac and press through a sieve if it’s gotten a bit too lumpy. Transfer to a bowl and chill completely.

Whip the cream and fold into the curd.

 

mascarpone

270 g mascarpone

4 tsp sugar

2 tbsp milk, or as needed to loosen up the cheese

1 capful of rum and/or a bit of Triple Sec (to reinforce the orange motif)

zest of 1 blood orange

100 mL heavy cream

Cream the mascarpone with all the ingredients except the heavy cream until light and incorporated.

Whip the cream to nice peaks and fold into the mascarpone.

 

assembly

Fill a pastry bag with a bit of the mascarpone. Pipe a ring over two layers of cake. Fill the centre with some of the lightened blood orange curd.

Put one layer on top of the other, and then place the final cake layer on top. Cover everything with the remaining mascarpone. Put a few pieces of rosemary onto the top and scatter with some granola and/or crumb.

tarte tartiflette

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I recently spent some time in Saskatoon. It was a bit like revisiting an old album (or for a less poetic example, rewatching the first season of Digimon on Youtube) where you discover that you remember so much. There is so much familiar, and maybe it’s a particular exchange (and if we’re talking English-dubbed Digimon, almost certainly some terrible puns) or a particular street or shop, but some of it is in fact crystalline in its clarity. And some of it was not even the recall of memories that had been slightly out of reach–I realised a number of childhood memories that I had falsely attributed to Victoria were in fact Saskatoon. Despite the drastically different location–one on an island, and one in the prairies–there is something similar about the feeling between the two cities, perhaps to do with the size and the people and this trajectory of gentle growth. It’s perhaps a strange comparison to make, but there is also the architecture of a smaller downtown packed with beautiful older buildings.

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As for the baking. Well. Many things, such as funerals and the like, are not often particularly cheerful–though they can be many other things, such as cathartic, releasing, memorable, and reminiscent. However, bookending anything not particularly cheerful with visits to bakeries and a box of pastries tends to be, if not positive, at the very least not a negative development.

It was in one sort of situation or another that we found ourselves at Little Bird Patisserie. In a word it was incredible; while we didn’t arrive in time for a famed cruffin, the croissants were spectacular, crisp, light, flaky, well-browned, and perhaps what made them stand out the most–well-salted.

t was a bit of a fantasy shop for me actually; apparently they serve afternoon tea, a creative and rotating array of pastries savoury and sweet, and of course a fantastic croissant.

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But anyways, after recovering from all the croissant-induced satiety and gaiety, there was also their “tartiflette“. It essentially sang of smokey cured meat, aged cheese, all nestled between packed layers of thinly sliced potatoes under a crisp, deep brown crust. And so while the croissants are something I hope to (re)visit someday, for the moment the tartiflette took priority.

Looking into the namesake a bit, tartiflette, it turns out, is a gratin-type dish, completely different from the tart.  It does retain the same sort of spirited mishmash of rich and winter-y ingredients and intense carbohydrate piling.

In making this tart, I used what meat and cheese I had in the fridge. As I had hard cheeses, and because conceptualizing putting together the tart wasn’t clicking otherwise, I made a very thick and rich bechamel (more along the lines of a suspension of milk in melted cheese than the converse). Onions, shallots and cured meat was cooked together until the onions were softened and sweet. All of this was layered with parboiled potatoes.

On the potatoes front, I imagine this working just perfectly with waxy small red potatoes (and the skins would look so pretty as well). I used the small, wrinkled, and fervently sprouting kennebecs leftover from the summer however. They’re starchier, but still worked nicely. Not having any fresh herbs was a bit of shock, so I used a tad bit of dried thyme–and wish that I had not been so worried and just went for it.

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It was a good tart–especially eaten warm, it is rich and heavy. The bottom crust stayed flaky and didn’t become at all sodden, and the thin spread of bechamel overtop crisped up beautifully.

However, it did end up a bit more like a scalloped potatoes tart than I would have hoped. I did identify a number of changes I would make to remedy this. First, I should have sliced the potatoes more thinly; really, I sliced them approximately scalloped-potatoes-type thickness. This would result in more thin layers and less of a “chunky” texture. Further, along with more layers, I would have spread out the bechamel more thinly. Finally, I also would have liked a greater herby presence–so if you have fresh thyme, put in plenty, and maybe even some parsley stems.

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tarte tartiflette

Makes 1 large rectangular tart (roughly 26 x 15 cm). Inspired by the tartiflette at Little Bird Patisserie and then by this tartiflette recipe in the Guardian by Felicity Cloake.

pastry

166 g cold butter

200 g whole wheat flour

3/4 tsp kosher salt

40-50 mL cold water

Cut the butter into thin pieces.

Mix together the flour and salt on the countertop. Add the butter, turning to coat both sides with flour. Using the heel of your hand, flatten the butter into the flour. Use a bench scraper to “fold” the butter flour mixture in half on top of itself. Repeat these steps until the butter forms many thin flakes. Make a well in the centre and add the water, working the dough in the same manner by turning it over onto itself until a cohesive pastry is formed. Wrap and chill completely.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface and line a large rectangular pan (26 x 15 cm). Blind bake for 20-25 minutes, then remove the baking weight and bake for another 5-10 minutes or until the pastry is a bit browned.

 

filling

600 g small potatos

1 onion

1/2 shallot

50 g coppa (as I had some very discounted old coppa…otherwise, smokey bacon or lardons)

1 tbsp butter

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the washed potatoes. Parboil until just tender. Drain, cover in cold water, and set aside to cool.

Thinly slice the onion and finely mince the shallot. Take the coppa or bacon and cut into small strips or pieces. Melt the butter in a pan over medium, add the onions and shallots and cook until very soft and the onions smell cooked. Add the coppa or bacon and continue to cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally until the onions are a bit sweet. Set aside.

Return to the cooled potatoes, drying them off and slicing very thinly.

 

bechamel

1 tbsp butter

1/8 tsp dry thyme

1 1/2 tsp flour

150 mL half-and-half or milk…I used primarily half-and-half

1 bay leaf

black pepper

30 g gruyere

80 g aged white cheddar

Melt the butter in a small saucepan with the thyme, add the flour and whisk until thick and cooked. Gradually whisk in the half-and-half or milk until smooth. Add the bay leaf and let sit over a gentle heat (steaming, not simmering) for around 10 minutes.

While the bay leaf infuses, roughly grate the cheeses. Remove the bay leaf and add the cheese a handful at a time to the sauce, whisking until melted before the next handful. Add a bit of black pepper.

 

assembly

pastry

potatoes

onion, shallot and copa mixture

bechamel

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Arrange a single layer of sliced potatoes on the bottom of the tart. Spread half of the onion mixture and a generous third of the bechamel over top. Repeat. Finally, set down a last layer of potatoes and spread with the scant remaining bechamel. A tiny sprinkle of salt over the potato layers may have some merit.

Bake for around 40 minutes or until a bit bubbly and deeply golden. Let cool on a wire rack–some time is required to allow the filling to set a bit, but it is best warm. Store in the fridge, but before eating, do warm it up in the oven. I insist.